Objectivity Means Saying My Side Is Right!

Benny Torres is not the only one who had a problem with EGM’s recent coverage of the brewing portable wars in their February 2005 issue. Nintendo Now recently weighed in on the issue and, not too surprisingly, also found the coverage to be less than favorable for the DS.

Many of these same points were already addressed on this blog EGM’s Editor-in-chief Dan “Shoe” Hsu. The article does bring up some fresh points:

Games like Pokemon Dash, Super Princess Peach, Frogger, and Atari Classics made it on the list while better looking, true sure-fire hits that highlight the DS’s capabilities such as Rayman DS, Metroid Prime: Hunters, Dynasty Warriors, Another Code, and Super Mario Bros. DS were strangely absent.

But, to be fair, Nintendo itself didn’t mention any of those “sure-fire hits” titles in a recent press release:

Publishers have more than 120 games planned for Nintendo DS. Key titles due in 2005 include Need for Speed Underground™ 2 from Electronic Arts, WarioWare™: Touched!, Pokémon® Dash and Yoshi Touch & Go™ from Nintendo and Retro Atari Classics™ from Atari.

Part of the problem here is that the EGM feature isn’t an unbiased news article — it’s more of an extended preview section for portable games. While there are a lot of facts presented, a lot of opinions also seep in, and those opinions do favor the PSP. Part of this is likely because of previously discussed preview bias, part of this is becasue the EGM staff probably thinks the PSP is better.

There’s no problem with this, except that some readers obviously don’t understand that this is an opinion feature. The way the article is cast in the magazine, this is understandable. It’s not labeled as a review or preview and it’s not in the “press start” news section (which also has its share of opinion… a topic for another time), instead it is placed in the cover feature slot where straight news and opinion-based pieces are known to show up. Readers expecting a totally unbiased, purely factual look at the competing systems will not get what they expect.

Is this fair to EGM. Maybe — they make minimal effort to make it explicit to readers that the feature is editorial preview. Maybe not — anyone who reads EGM should know that the magazine is pretty much one big editorial anyway. The seperation of editorial and hard news content has been discussed on this blog before, and I’m not going to rehash my points, but I will say that a clearer demarcation here could have saved EGM a lot of headaches.

I’ll end this post the same way NNow ended theirs, and I’ll note that I usually don’t look for unbiased commentary from sites with company or system names in their title. (not to make a blanket statement about such sites, but their titles do start them off with one objectivity strike against them):

For now, gamers looking for the truth about Nintendo products can count on dependable and objective online media outlets such as Nintendo Now, Planet GameCube, and N-Sider. Obviously you won’t find one in the magazine world… yet.

15 thoughts on “Objectivity Means Saying My Side Is Right!

  1. The problem I have with this story is not the bias, because I think a lot of the outrage is taken out of context. Yes, EGM spent more time this issue talking up the big games at launch … but what else do you expect? The launch is a month away!

    These people seem to be forgetting that just a few issues ago EGM gave the DS launch line up a “B” and the PSP line up a “C”. Of course, at that time most of the big titles for launch had not been seen and nobody had been able to play the games.

    In the months leading up to the DS launch EGM had plenty to talk about and mostly positive comments. They hyped up most of the games, and if you compare their reviews to other sites, they actually gave the DS games much better scores. It’s not whether or not they are baised, it’s the fact that they are excited about new hardware … just like a lot of other gamers would be. Wouldn’t it be more biased to simply ignore a system launch?

    Also, it always seems funny when somebody from a fansite cries bias. Of course the Nintendo fanboys are going to see bias, and the Sony people will see bias, and everybody will see the news as they want to see it. I’d ask if we could all just get along, but I’d rather see more objective reasoning. Just because the FCC thinks we’re all two shades above retarded doesn’t mean we actually are!!

  2. I’m looking at the issue in question right now. Yes, the PSP is in the forefront on the cover, and yes, EGM is gushing about how cool it is. But, if you read further through it , you will also read about how awsome the new Castlevania will be on the DS, and there are a total of 11 previews for DS games, and most of them are very positive.
    Another thing most people have missed is the coverage of the N-Gage, Zodiac, and Gizmondo. Most of the games are previewed with a fairly positive bias.

  3. Erik: Obviously how “sexy” something is is a very subjective thought. One person may think the DS is more attractive while another might think the PSP is where it’s at. But let’s be fair here, most of the people that say the PSP is “sexy” are not the EGM employees or staff writers. The people that say it’s “sexy” are those that are interviewed on the street.

    Also, Nintendo fans (which I proudly call myself) can say all they want that the DS is made for the same audience as the PSP, but when you look at the games it’s hard to tell. The PSP has a number of launch titles that the over 21 audience can really dig their teeth into. So far the DS has Mario and Wario … not exactly the posterboys for adult gaming.

    As was mentioned before, when the DS was released they spent a lot of time covering that (and bashing what looked like a bad launch line up for the PSP). Things have changed and the PSP is only one month away … of course they are excited about the prospects of the PSP, a lot of people are.

    In the end, the DS simply didn’t have enough titles to talk about. It’s one thing to complain that they are talking about more of the PSP games, but isn’t the PSP launching with more games than are currently available for the DS?

  4. The different levels in hype are simple mathematics.

    The PSP will have 25 games available at launch. The DS has been available for almost 6 months and it doesn’t even have 25 games yet.

    More games = more coverage.

    Even if almost all of them are ports of PS2 games.

  5. The PSP does look sexy. It looks like a very sleek piece of electronics.

    And it should, since Kutaragi considered the appearance of the system was more important than the actual quality of the hardware. (Which is how he can say the button clipping the screen isn’t a design flaw, because it was intentional to get the machine to look the way he wanted. And the placement of the analog disk. And the disk ejecting. And everything else.)

    And he seemed to be right. People don’t care, simply because it is a Sony product and it does look sexy.

  6. Detecting bias is not always about holding the opposite opinion. I could care less who wins what “hardware war” as long as I get to play great games. I agree that EGM’s recent handheld coverage is unbalanced, and that bothers me, but not because I want the DS to rule the world; it’s because I wish the closest thing there is to a quality gaming magazine would take the next step and become something more than just acceptable-by-comparison.

    The ultimate problem is that my displeasure does not matter to EGM, and they are wise to disregard the complaints of myself and other gaming enthusiasts who want to see them work toward a better balance. Magazines survive by selling space for advertisements, but companies will not just dump cash into a magazine without seeing some hard data indicating how many eyes will see the ads. Therefore, EGM must do what it takes to grab as many eyes as possible. In this industry, the enthusiasts (loud as we may be on the Internet) represent the minority of the consumers, so there is no good financial reason for EGM to cater to us.

    Popular opinion is that Sony is cool and Nintendo is for babies. Popular philosophy is that it is smart to purchase a game based solely on one’s positive feelings toward the creative property it is based upon. Popular feeling is that one can never own enough games that feature bald and/or scruffy men with loads of weaponry who steal cars, regardless of the quality of the titles. Clearly, it is popular opinion that guides the design of EGM’s covers and the hyperbole in its previews, leaving enthusiasts to ask questions like:

    “Why is the PSP featured so prominently on a cover that promotes an article about ALL handhelds?”

    “Though licensed software has improved in recent years, such games should still be approached with caution. Can they really be this pumped about The Godfather/Enter the Matrix/Scarface?”

    “Why is EGM featuring a PSP < $200 bomb graphic that looks like it was lifted from a Sony fan site?” “Why run a Driver 3 cover that is virtually identical to that Getaway cover from a few months back? Who wants to buy this many GTA clones?” All of these questions have the same answer: EGM is not marketed to us. We enthusiasts represent the minority of game-buyers . We will read EGM regardless of what is on the cover, and we know how to filter their absurd previews and opinion-filled features/news for concrete information, then use the Internet to fill in the gaps. We find that their voices sound more like our own when it comes time for reviews*, and that gives us a level of comfort, knowing that beneath it all, they really are just like us. Meet them outside of the pages, and they might say things like “Lumines is the only PSP launch game worth buying,” or “Man, Scarface is going to suck.” But putting Lumines on the cover or writing in a wait-and-see tone about licensed games will hardly help them grab attention, and grabbing attention is how they keep working. Who can blame them? (*Most of the time. Sometimes it seems like the preview/feature/news hype trickles over into the reviews a bit, but that is another conversation, held on this blog before and it likely will be again.)

  7. I’ve noticed that, in this posting, the word “biased” seems to imply “corrupt.” At least that’s what I’m getting from it. And if that’s the case, obviously this article itself is, in a way, biased.

    The fact is, a reviewing company is going to be biased. They’re job is to write reviews based on what they know. Chances are, if you are having a human being write about something, it is going to carry along many opinions. If EGM favors the PSP for whatever reasons, why would they put any other system on the spotlight? Even if you go to an official Sony or Nintendo site, it’s going to be biased. The companies want people to buy their system. They may not openly say their system is the best, but they sure will imply. Just like all those paper towel comercials where they compair to the “other brand.” No matter where you go, it’s going to be biased. That’s why all the smart shoppers out there don’t settle with one opinion. You go for many resources and gain information. After you gain a few opinions, you make a decision based on what you want and think will be more fun for yourself. Such strategies for shoping are tought in Economics classes. Seriously, does anyone else not know this?

    I mean, forget all the aspects of age targets, ratings and amount of games per system. But focus in on the information being released. Go up to someone and ask them what they think about the DS and PSP. Then go to a few more people and ask the same thing. Chances are, you won’t find much diversity in the opinions, but the leading arguments will be, in some way, biased. Honestly, if you like a system, are you going to list all its flaws to everyone? I highly doubt it…

  8. In response to the initial question, I don’t think bias implies corruption. Depending on the context, bias can be desirable (a preview) or not desirable (a news story), and the lack of distinction between the two is the problem here. It is a bit of a loaded term, it can mean anything from “favoring one thing over another” to “favoring one thing over another because someone paid you.”

    I don’t quite understand the point of the rest of your comment, though. Are you saying that EGM is just as biased as a commercial or Corporate web site? That I’m just as biased as EGM? That people who get paid to do reviews are uncapable of writing news stories that are unbiased? That talking to people on the street is more reliable than reading a magazine?

    After reading the whole thing again, the only point I can come up with is “people have different opinions.” Yes. Well put.

    Next!

  9. Previews, however, do tend to have an element of opinion to them. We’re not talking ‘hard’ news here: run a chart with all the specs of the PSP and list the launch titles, is that what people want? That’s not what they’re going to base a purchase on.

    The concept behind previews in the gaming press is to give an impression of the product, often because the writers and editors have had a chance to actually see and get hands-on time with a product. Can there be bias? Absolutely – part of it is opinion. How can you absolutely, without bias, say if a game is ‘good’ or ‘fun’? All those concepts are completely subjective.

    The issue is how much readers trust the opinion of the writers for an outlet and how often their own opinions and tastes match up with the ongoing coverage.

    I work for a Gamecube site and believe me, Nintendo fans want you to tell them what they want to hear. They’re the least objective group of fans out there, they’re more interested in a pep rally to prove how great Nintendo is than any sort of objective coverage or critical analysis.

  10. When all’s said and done, EGM’s gushing over the PSP is getting really ridiculous. I just picked up the latest issue, which previews The Godfather, and they try their damnedest to downplay the DS outselling the PSP roughly 2 to 1, saying that “The excitement surrounding the launch completely dwarfed that of Nintendo’s effort”, whatever that means. From what I understand, the DS sold through roughly 90% of it’s stock in Japan through December, and passed the million mark in two weeks. To date, only around 800k PSPs have been sold. I’d hardly say that “Dwarfs” anything, would you?

  11. Well, of course biased doesn’t imply corruption. I was simply saying that I infered, from your article, that EGM’s opinionated views was marking corruption in their system. But you’re right, it is a loaded term because it can be used for or against anyone who chooses to speak their mind.

    As for the rest of my comment, I truely did not mean for it to be so puzling, I apologize for that. But I was simply stating that as long as a person is going to write about something, paid or not, there’s going to be an aspect of opinion. Everything you read in the world, has some form of opinion. That is why different writers covering the same topics, weather they be fact or fictious, will use different views and focus on different points.

    <>Are you saying that EGM is just as biased as a commercial or Corporate web site?<>Well, that very well may be. They’re not mindless. Every person in that company has opinions. Reguardless, the writers and editors may leak some of those opinions into their released information.

    <>That I’m just as biased as EGM?<>I wouldn’t know. But i’m sure you have your opinions. I’m sure if someone were to attack your opinions, they might say you were biased.

    <>That people who get paid to do reviews are uncapable of writing news stories that are unbiased?<>This could cover a whole other topic. As it is, there are biased views in the news. Having a sister who is a newspaper editor, i’ve learned that reading around, you’ll find plenty of biased views on things as simple as current events. But no, people paid to write reviews are not uncapable of writing unbiased news stories. But I think without the opinionated view, the news would seem dry and weak. But they are writing on what they know after all. Sure they may be writing factual information, but that doesn’t stop someone from inserting their own views.

    <>That talking to people on the street is more reliable than reading a magazine?<>Talking to a single informed person on the street will give you the same information as reading a magazene. So yes, if you talk to enough informed people, preferably those you know, you’ll get a lot more out of it than one person’s views. I believe it’s called comparison shoping. Just like in the many RPG’s people play, the object is to gather information from more than one person and put it all together in a fashion that is helpful to your cause. And if you have enough money and don’t mind multiple subscriptions, perhaps more than one magazene will have the same effect. The idea is to not just listen to a single point of view and govern your actions on that point of view.

    But yes, ultimately, it means everyone has opinions. But more to the point, simply listening to one will not enlighten you.

  12. “The excitement surrounding the launch completely dwarfed that of Nintendo’s effort”

    I’m glad you mentioned this quote Chris, it is the other thing in the article that caught my eye and made me wonder. It would be just as objective to say that in the Japanese launch Nintendo cleaned Sony’s clock, outselling 2 to 1. The truly objective view would have been somewhere in between the two, not diminishing the DS’s success but also pointing out that the PSP has a shortage and it is hard to compare simply on sales.

    Cyril, I guess my problem isn’t with whether the PSP has more “adult” games. It is whether games like GTA3 are in anyway more catered to adults than Mario. I dispute the whole notion that adults prefer games rated T or M. I think mostly that is teens who think they are macho by playing that type of thing and many adults (those who don’t have the need to prove manhood) are just as willing to play E games. That doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy me some GTA3 or RE4, it just means that the current method of determining whether a system is geared towards adults or not is invalid.

    Ninja, I have a long history writing for Nintendo sites (though I’ve also written for multi-console and Xbox sites) and I don’t see Nintendo fans being any more console biased. If anything, Nintendo fans are self-loathing and hold Nintendo to a higher standard than Sony or Microsoft fans do. Sure, they present a united front in fanboy wars, but they truly enjoy Nintendo but are irked by Nintendo at the same time.

    I think the criticism of EGM is legitimate on the grounds of it being poor editorial decision on many of the wordings that seem to be overly kind to the PSP. I do not believe that it is out of any real preference for the PSP, it is just writing that lets popularity and hype influence it too much.

  13. And personally, when I first saw the PSP at Sony’s E3 presentation, I thought that it looked awful. It had this horrible, distracting glare while Kutaragi showed it off (No I wasn’t there,I watched the video). Since then it’s grown on me but I’m just now all that impressed by the aesthetics.

  14. One thing that is getting on my nerves is EGM’s constant reference to the PSP as “sexy.” That is thoroughly opinionated and unnecessary.

    If the PSP is a sexy gadget, then the DS is a good looking in its own right gadget that has personality in addition to just looks. But I don’t see EGM making such statements about the DS. Basically EGM reinforces the belief that the PSP is some hip grown-up gadget and the DS is a kid’s toy.

    The latest issue (about the PSP launch) just increases the issue. It isn’t that they are negative to the DS as much as they are excessively positive and basically shilling for the PSP with Sony talking points. It isn’t responsible journalism.

  15. Great discussion going here, guys.

    I have no problem with people calling the PSP’s design sexy, but that seems to be <>all<> they’re calling it. Occasionally “sleek” or “stylish” will get thrown in too, but that’s pretty much it? How about some new words: curvaceous, smooth, aerodynamic… these are off the top of my head. Use a thesaurus!

    It’s definitely possible to do a “hard news” piece on the portable wars past just “run[ning] a chart with all the specs of the PSP and list the launch titles.” You could talk to developers about their thoughts on the system (something EGM did right after E3). You can go to the gamers and ask them what they think of each system. You can look at technical matters like battery life. You can look at marketing, at point-of-purchase hype (what do store clerks prefer?) at pricing speculation and/or comparison (for hardware, software and accesories). Again, these are just off the top of my head. Game previews are not the end-all be-all of pre-launch system coverage.

    The adult/kiddy question is only tangentially related, but I have to say Nintendo is doing a horrible job if they want the DS to appeal to an older demographic. Yes there are adults that like kiddy games (me among them), but the hot, growing market in games right now is mostly “teens who think they are macho by playing that [M-rated] type of thing.” This is why games for this segment are flooding the market and why the press is focusing on them.

    Also, IMHO, Nintendo fans are worse simply because we’ve (I’m a Nintendo junkie) had more time to build up their fandom. We were heavily invested in their company long before Sony and MS (and even Sega) fans and we know what it’s like to be the undisputed, 90% monopoly holder and lose it in a few heartbeats.

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